Each Friday we post a new v i s t a profile, a career beyond the academy story (use the tags at the bottom of the post to find the entire list). These posts accompany our curated events to support post-PhD career transitions, v i s t a mentoring, and also #sheffvista on Twitter.
Job title and company: Core Medical Trainee, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Approximate salary range for your type of role: Variable according to banding supplement during rotation. All salary information can be found here.
I really enjoyed my undergraduate degree in genetics at the University of Sheffield and found that the aspects I enjoyed most were relating to human diseases. After completing my degree I contemplated applying to medicine but at that stage I wasn’t convinced that this was the career for me. I loved my undergraduate project so stayed on and undertook a PhD investigating the repair of DNA double strand breaks during meiosis.
During my PhD I found I became most interested in the medical aspects and decided I wanted to make the switch. I found this a daunting prospect as I didn’t know anyone who had undertaken a medical degree after their PhD and the thought of a further 4 years at University was overwhelming. Before applying to medicine, I decided to try and get more experience in a paramedical field. I accepted a postdoc position at New York University with Professor Roth, who was Dean of the Medical School. I thought this would be a good means by which I could gain more insight into a medical career. The Roth group investigated V(D)J recombination and non-homologous end joining in mammalian cells so a similar theme of DNA repair but in a more medically applicable field.
During my time in the lab I was awarded the Irving fellowship of the Cancer Research Institute of the USA for my work investigating the initiating lesions of leukaemias and lymphomas. I loved my 3 years in New York, not only in the lab but also living in a city I have always adored. My fellowship gave me the confidence to apply for medicine – most people working in the lab were MD PhDs and so it no longer felt like such an overwhelming prospect.
On returning to the UK, I completed a 4-year graduate entry medical degree at the University of Birmingham. This was an intense degree and I can honestly say I have never worked harder but I absolutely loved it. One challenge during medical school was being more ‘mature’ – I was nearly a decade older than most of my contemporaries. Whilst not a major issue, it meant I often had different responsibilities and priorities from my colleagues. On graduation I undertook my foundation training at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust where I remain today for my core medical training (with two maternity leaves in between).
The job is incredibly varied, no two days the same. I have had placements in general practice, small district general hospitals and large tertiary referral centres. Specialties included emergency surgery, oncology, sexual health, HIV and A&E.
I have been positively encouraged to remain active in research; it is becoming more and more commonplace to need a PhD to be a competitive applicant for consultant positions. As a natural progression from my PhD, I have become involved in oncology research – in particular immune modulation and chemotherapy for GI malignancies. So far I have written several reviews, book chapters and have recently published my first book on the subject. All of this has had to be undertaken in my personal time whilst revising for one of many professional exams, I have felt incredibly stretched at times. It often feels relentless; the next exam is always on the horizon.
There are many skills that I developed during research that have been invaluable in medicine – prioritisation, organisation, and time management are the most immediately obvious. The formulation of hypotheses and designing experiments to test them uses the same skill set as deciding upon differential diagnoses and appropriate investigations. I feel able to put the skills I honed during my PhD to use on a daily basis.
As with all jobs, there are downsides – it is at times acutely stressful: my first ever shift was a weekend night shift with the cardiac arrest bleep, I still have nightmares about it! The working day can be incredibly long, often 13 hour shifts, and regularly staying beyond this. It is not uncommon to go an entire shift without a decent break, grabbing a chocolate bar whilst running to answer the 10th bleep that hour. It is not unheard of to have a 90-minute commute after such a day. The rotas can be challenging regularly swapping between day and night shifts and hardly ever received in advance, making general life planning, especially with two children, difficult. I am often unable to attend weddings or other family events and it is impossible to plan holidays in advance.
There are significant financial costs also – annual GMC registration, indemnity insurance along with professional college membership and necessary examinations, which run in to thousands annually.
There are of course huge positives – you are truly able to help people, often at the most vulnerable time in their lives. It is an absolute privilege and always feels worthwhile. There are patients I have looked after who I will never forget, their stories I will always remember. It can be incredibly exciting, and I always feel I am learning a new skill and being stretched. There is also a real feeling of it being an apprentiship – I have had many senior colleagues take a real interest in helping me to further my career, both from an academic and pastoral perspective.
Another positive is the hugely varied workforce I have the privilege of working with– allied health care professionals from all over the world, which gives a wonderfully diverse and dynamic environment. The camaraderie whilst at work can be incredible; I have worked with some fantastic teams and made friends for life.
One of the other advantages of this career is the ability to work in almost any part of the world. During medical school I worked in a remote hospital in Zambia for three months. This was a life changing experience, working in one of the poorest countries in the world where the poverty and health inequality was overwhelming. Families would walk for days to receive care, and only the most basic treatment options were available.
Excitingly, medical careers are becoming less prescriptive – it is becoming possible to create the niche career you want – I have worked with expedition medics who spend half of the year climbing Everest. I love my job, it can at times be overwhelming, but I am so pleased I took a risk. For anyone thinking about making a career change I would encourage you – you will be able to use the skills you have learnt in ways you never imagined.